How many of you can bird watch while you’re doing the washing up? I can, and it’s fascinating! It was while scrubbing away at a particularly recalcitrant baking tray one afternoon that I looked up and saw a magpie with a beakful of twigs flying into the tree on the embankment across the railway tracks.
Then a second twig-laden magpie came in, and I realised they were building a nest – so I kept watching them. And I’ve been watching them ever since. In this post, I’d like to introduce you to some more of my local wildlife (and update you on the Toon Magpies, of course!). It’s time to meet the neighbours…
All photos from the wonder that is Wikimedia Commons. Click through on any pic for more info and licensing details.
The Pidge Family
The Pidge Family are Wood Pigeons. Pidge himself has become a regular visitor to my kitchen tree over the last year or so, especially on rainy days when he will come and snuggle up in the crook of a branch with his feathers all fluffed up in an attempt to keep dry.
Exciting news from the ToonMagpies – they’re building a new nest! It’s in the same tree they used last year, as you can see from the photo above (the 2018 nest is top right, this year’s is top left), which means I’ve had a grandstand seat in my kitchen for the building process again.
The new nest is looking a bit scruffy, but it’s large and I am sure it will be perfectly cosy for the forthcoming eggs. The recent unseasonably warm weather in the UK has increased the building activity to the extent that I now actually think that TWO nests are being built in adjacent trees, by two different pairs of magpies!
Yes! The magpies made it through! I am delighted to report that all went well for the brave little magpie pair whose progress I was following from my kitchen window back in the spring, and there is now a large gang of youngsters squawking noisily round the neighbourhood
They are now officially known as the Toon Magpies thanks to my friend Jim, who is a Newcastle United fan (for non football readers, United play in black and white striped shirts, are nicknamed the Magpies, and their fans are known as the Toon Army).
As a result, Jim has decided to name the young magpies after his favourite players and managers from the club. This means we have Sir Bobby [Robson], Rafa [Benitez], Shola [Ameobi], [Alan] Shearer, Speedo [Gary Speed] and more…
I live in west London, right under the Heathrow flightpath, and my flat backs on to a fairly busy railway line that sometimes sees traffic at all hours of the day and night. Noisy, yes, but still a great place to live because (and this may surprise some people) of all the wildlife in the area. There is a perhaps surprising amount of green space nearby, creating perfect habitats for numerous creatures – you’ll find a small park and various allotments (some in use, some derelict) within a block or so of my flat, and the railway line itself is flanked by trees and other greenery.
I ventured out into the snowy wilds of west London this afternoon. It was icy cold and the biting wind made it feel even colder, but as I left my building I was amused to spot this adorable little fella guarding the front door. I suspect he was built by my lovely next-door-neighbours, who have an energetic toddler – he’s just the perfect size for a little one to have made!
Keep warm and safe out there, dear readers. And if you build a snowman, send me a snap! In weather like this, it’s important to keep an eye on your friends, neighbours and family too, especially anyone who is elderly, vulnerable, or in poor health. Sometimes even something as simple as an extra pair of fluffy socks or a hot flask of tea can make all the difference…
Dealing with inclement weather at this time of the year is nothing new. We’ve had some snow in London already this December, but it’s unlikely to be a white Christmas here this year. The early 19th century was a chilly time, though, as illustrated by this witty 1821 etching by Richard Dighton from the Wellcome Library collection. This unfortunate chap has just had his fashionable top hat knocked into his eyes by falling snow being shovelled above – just as he passes a shop selling ice skates (I love the shop’s name: ‘Careless Skate Maker’. Not sure I’d want to be shopping there if I was wanting to get out on the ice!). This was obviously a common annoyance in a wintery 19th century London, and it didn’t matter if you were an elegantly dressed gentleman like this one – the snow would still get you!
It’s almost Christmas Eve. Wherever you are, and whether you have snow or not, keep safe and warm out there…
It’s the day before Christmas Eve and I hope you’ve done all your shopping. Since it’s a Saturday too, high streets and shopping centres up and down the country will be buzzing with last-minute shoppers all day. Personally, that’s one of my more anxiety-inducing ideas of hell, and makes me glad I’ve done all my Christmas shopping, and all I have to do now is to stay in the warm and wrap the presents up (which, in its way, is a circle of hell in its own right – can someone PLEASE find the end of the Sellotape for me!?). I’m looking forward to Christmas Day when I can put my feet up and not have to think about anything!
Way back in 2010, I wrote a Christmas post examining how the festive season was celebrated in the 17th century. This was a period of great upheaval in British culture and society, especially in the aftermath of the Civil Wars and the execution of King Charles I. A Puritan government under Oliver Cromwell had taken over from the monarchy and implemented a new set of policies that weren’t always popular with the ordinary people.
Most notoriously, they banned the celebration of Christmas – as I wrote in the previous post, this really annoyed the people of London (and elsewhere), who simply carried on as usual when it came to enjoying the festivities, and even rioted when they could not! In return, London’s refusal to abide by the law thoroughly irritated the government, as this intriguing report from around 1650 (attributed to Cromwell himself) shows.
As with many things in life, I came across this somewhat bizarre little newsreel clip while I was looking for something else entirely (I was actually searching YouTube for videos of football being played in extreme weather – you can find my playlist of that here). When I saw this frankly odd snippet of film, I couldn’t resist posting it here for your enjoyment too!
Filmed at the Streatham Ice Rink in south London (I honestly can’t see this type of game being played on the beautiful green reaches of the Twickenham pitch!), and, according to the narrator “a mixture of rugby and American footer”, this 8-a-side match between the Senators and the Royals doesn’t actually seem to have much in the way of tactics going on – unless you count falling over in a heap and shoving the opposition off the ice at 25mph as tactical play!
I’ve long been fascinated by the forgetfulness of human beings. There seems to be a limit to the capacity of the human brain for retaining information before some of it starts falling out of your ears. Your memory card is full, please delete some files to free up space, as it were. But it’s not just forgetting important dates like your mum’s birthday or your wedding anniversary though. As the Wombles put it so succinctly, it’s “the things that the everyday folk leave behind” that offer us an intriguing glimpse into the ways our memories work – or don’t, as the case may be.
Our brains are fallible. Quite ridiculously so at times. Losing your house keys, forgetting your phone, misplacing your glasses, the disappearance of the remote control – these are all everyday things that happen to us all at some point in our lives (although I’d bet you’ve never managed to lock yourself in your flat due to sheer stupidity. I have. The locksmith was highly amused, and I went round singing Vic and Bob’s ‘Trapped In My Flat’ for the rest of the day).
But some people forget the oddest things. Over the years I’ve posted quite a lot on the subject of the weirder side of lost property – bizarre items left on variousforms of publictransport or in hotelrooms by forgetful customers – and it never ceases to surprise and amaze me what kind of things people actually leave behind in public places.
Everything from wedding dresses, live tortoises, a bag of haggis. a casket of human ashes, and an inflatable dinosaur (yay!), to a gas mask, a framed photo of Mary Berry, a pair of breast implants, a stuffed puffer fish, and a hamster have been turned into various lost property offices in recent years. It really makes me wonder how such oblivious souls got some of these things on the train/bus/tube/into a hotel room in the first place, let alone forgot them!
Indeed, I still worry sometimes about the life-size Dalek someone once left abandoned in a hotel room after checking out – is the poor thing alright? Did anyone ever come back to claim it? Where did it go? Were there stairs involved? And how the hell do you forget a life-size Dalek in the first place? Such weird items of lost property leave me with so many questions (which is probably why I keep returning to the subject!).